The long-term gastrointestinal functional outcomes following curative anterior resection in adults with rectal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Dis Colon Rectum. 2011 Dec;54(12):1589-97. doi: 10.1097/DCR.0b013e3182214f11.


Background: Significant variability and a lack of transparency exist in the reporting of anterior resection outcomes.

Objectives: This study aimed to qualitatively analyze the long-term functional outcomes and assessment tools used in evaluating patients with rectal cancer following anterior resection, to quantify the incidence of these outcomes, and to identify risk factors for long-term incontinence.

Data sources: MEDLINE, Embase, and CINAHL were searched using the terms rectal neoplasms, resection, and gastrointestinal function.

Study selection: The studies included were in English and evaluated adults with rectal cancer, curative anterior resection, and a minimum 1-year follow-up. Patients with recurrent/metastatic disease were excluded. Of the 805 records identified, 48 articles were included.

Intervention: The intervention performed was anterior resection.

Main outcome measures: The main outcome measure was incontinence (gas, liquid stool, and solid stool).

Results: The histories of 3349 patients from 17 countries were summarized. Surgeries were conducted between 1978 to 2004 with a median follow-up of 24 months (interquartile range, 12, 57). Sixty-five percent of studies did not use a validated assessment tool. Reported outcomes and incidence rates were variable. The reported proportion of patients with incontinence ranged from 3.2% to 79.3%, with a pooled incidence of 35.2% (95% CI 27.9, 43.3). Risk factors for incontinence, identified by meta-regression, were preoperative radiation 0.009 and, in particular, short-course radiation (P = .006), and study quality (randomized controlled trial P = .004, observational P = .006).

Limitations: The meta-analysis was limited by the significant heterogeneity of the primary data.

Conclusions: Functional outcomes are inconsistently assessed and reported and require common definitions, and the more regular use of validated assessment tools, as well. Preoperative radiation and, in particular, short-course radiation may be a strong risk factor for incontinence; however, further studies are needed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fecal Incontinence / epidemiology
  • Fecal Incontinence / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications* / epidemiology
  • Recovery of Function
  • Rectal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome